THE emergence less than a week after polling day of a 'new' formula for the allocation
of seats in the next National Assembly added a convincing element to the opposition's
allegations of CPP foul play.
But election officials have stood their ground and sent a message back to Funcinpec
and the Sam Rainsy Party: you shouldn't sign anything you haven't read, and if you
do, don't complain about it later.
Critics, however, are unimpressed with the National Election Committee's (NEC) explanation
that the change was in fact merely a clerical error that was corrected months ago
and unfortunately nobody except the CPP noticed.
Such a significant alteration of procedure, they argue, should have been publicized.
"Nobody told the parties and nobody told the public that the formula of the
allocation of the seats has been changed," one election observer complained.
"This is not a nitty-gritty detail... Under the rule of law, if you change the
procedures, especially important ones, you should write to the parties and inform
Assembly seats are allocated province-by-province using a highest average formula
that favors parties with more votes over parties with fewer votes. The decision to
use the highest average was made by the current parliament when it passed the election
law last December, but the type of highest average system used - and there are at
least half a dozen - was left to the NEC.
Election officials maintain that there was no formula change because the decision
was made May 29 to use the d'Hondt allocation system, which greatly favors the winner
of the election compared to the system used during the UN-sponsored 1993 election,
which gives smaller parties a better chance of winning Assembly seats.
NEC Chairman Chheng Phon approved the d'Hondt system and it was entered into the
NEC regulations - incorrectly.
NGOs monitoring the election - including COMFREL, the Cambodian observer group that
has widely publicized its own vote tallies - picked up a copy of the incorrect formula
along with a draft version of the NEC regulations, election sources explained.
But the mistake was later caught and changed before the final copies of the regulations
were produced, they said, and correct versions of the 200-page document were circulated
among the parties and approved by 25 of them.
COMFREL, however, was not informed and did not obtain a copy of the correct formula.
When COMFREL's Assembly seat estimates did not correspond with the NEC's own count,
the discrepancy was discovered and the NGO was made aware of the change.
Opposition parties, meanwhile, watched in horror July 31 as the CPP's simple majority
vaulted to an absolute majority when the correct formula was used by COMFREL.
Despite complaints by a group of opposition Assembly members about the sudden change,
election officials maintain that there can be no change of the formula now that the
results of the election are known.
Criticism will undoubtedly persist. Formal requests to the NEC for the minutes of
the meeting when the formula was selected had not been granted at Post press time.
Critics contest that the decision to use the formula was not discussed by the entire
NEC, but by a few members who favor the CPP. They have no hard evidence to back up
their claims, but after being denied the NEC minutes and running the preliminary
results of the election through the two formulas and the UNTAC election formula (see
graphic), they feel the anecdotal evidence is strong enough.